Lodi police formally named a suspect in the Tuesday car crash that killed five people: a 28-year-old man released from prison last month who did not have a driver’s license and had been drinking apple vodka with his father shortly before the accident, search warrant documents and state records show.
Ryan Christopher Morales was named in a Lodi police announcement Friday “as the suspect who caused the fatal collision.”
Morales remains hospitalized in critical condition, and police have scheduled a news conference in Lodi on Monday to discuss the case.
Police said they have served three search warrants so far in their investigation and expect to issue more. Search warrant documents filed with San Joaquin Superior Court indicate that Morales was driving a GMC Yukon and was pinned inside after the crash. An officer “could smell an odor of an alcoholic beverage emitting from his person,” the documents state.
The documents say Morales was driving “at a high rate of speed” when he collided with a Ford F-150 truck carrying a family of six, including a woman seven months pregnant, at a busy intersection near Lodi Middle School.
The crash occurred at 5:21 p.m. and involved six vehicles. At 10 p.m., police went to a home 1.2 miles away where Morales had been living with his parents.
There, Morales’ mother, Tracy, said that when she got home from work her husband, James, and Ryan Morales were playing pingpong in the garage and that they had been drinking, according to the documents. She said she left at one point to pick up a pizza, and when she returned 15 minutes later, her son and the Yukon were gone.
James Morales told police that he and his son had begun drinking around 4 p.m. after his son brought home a 750 ml bottle of vodka that they finished, the documents state.
“It should be noted that it was difficult to get a clear statement from James because he appeared to be intoxicated,” the documents state.
The search warrant documents say officers found an empty 750 ml bottle of apple-flavored UV Vodka at the Morales home in an outside garbage barrel, as well as 10 other smaller empty bottles of the same apple-flavored vodka.
The documents also note that Morales’ cellphone was found at the scene of the crash and that police “believe that evidence of Ryan’s level of intoxication may be saved on Ryan’s cellular phone, I.E., text messages, telephone calls or pictures.”
Witnesses have told police they saw a young man driving an SUV just before the accident swerving at high speeds and clutching a cellphone to his ear.
No one answered the phone at the Morales home Friday.
Morales does not have a current driver’s license, according to Department of Motor Vehicle records. Instead, he has a state identification card and a record for a March 22 conviction of evading police. State corrections records show he was sentenced to one year and four months and ordered to prison May 15. He was released from prison on Sept. 2 and is on searchable probation for his conviction, which occurred in Alameda County.
The naming of Morales as a suspect came the same day that a relative of the family members killed called for a “thorough and complete investigation of what happened in this tragic accident and that justice be done.”
Felipe Miranda of Lodi said he was the brother of Luis Miranda, 32, who was killed Tuesday along with his pregnant wife, Viviana Rodriguez, 31.
The crash also killed three of their four children: 12-year-old Irving, 6-year-old Jose and 5-year-old Stephanie.
Their other child, 9-year-old Eden, survived and was listed in critical condition after the accident.
“The most important thing for us now is the health of Eden, which is reported to be stable but he is still not out of danger,” Miranda said in Spanish at a news conference at the Mexican Consulate in Sacramento, where he was flanked by Mexican Consul General Carlos González Gutiérrez and Douglas Gessell, a consulting attorney for the consulate.
Miranda described the family as “good, hardworking people seeking for a better future for themselves, their children and their community in this country.”
“Unfortunately, their plans have been disrupted in the tragic way that you all know,” he added. “This has been deeply painful for us all.”
Miranda did not take questions, but said the family is setting up a trust fund for Eden.
“We know that there are many people who want to help little Eden and his family, and we would like to express our gratitude in advance for all the support that we receive as we have many unexpected expenses,” Miranda said.
Mexican Consulate officials are working to bring Eden’s grandparents to California from Guererro, Mexico, to help with the tragedy. Miranda said his relatives who were killed will be returned to Mexico for burial.
“We are also focused on the transportation to Mexico of the bodies of our family members, where our families are waiting to give them a holy burial according to our traditions,” he said.
The crash has spawned an enormous outpouring in Lodi for the victims, with memorials at the crash site growing so quickly that city officials asked for a limit on them.
“The City of Lodi supports and understands the need for the community to mourn and show support for the families of the victims and the survivors, but encourages them to do so safely,” the city said in a statement issued Thursday. “The Public Works Department requests the public keep memorial items off the sidewalk and street, so that pedestrians on these streets do not need to walk in traffic.
“Also, the Electric Utility requests that no mylar (metallic foil) balloons be left on the site, as these balloons often float into electric distribution lines and cause power outages. The utility will remove any mylar balloons at this location.”